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Match Preview – Royals vs KKR, IPL 2021, 18th Match

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With both sides languishing in the bottom half of the points table, they can’t afford another batting meltdown

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Both the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals have plenty of cream in the middle, but their top orders are squishy at best. After their designated opener Ben Stokes was sidelined from the tournament, the Royals bumped Jos Buttler up to the top, but he has been dismissed twice in three innings inside the powerplay. His opening partner Manan Vohra hasn’t lasted beyond the fourth over in four innings. In IPL 2021, no team has lost more wickets in the first six overs than the Royals (ten) and their powerplay run rate of 6.75 is also the worst among all teams in the league.

With Liam Livingstone, a potential top-order replacement, also returning home after citing bubble fatigue, the Royals are scrambling for reinforcements. Yashasvi Jaiswal or Anuj Rawat, who is uncapped in the IPL, could displace Vohra from the top.



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Recent Match Report – Pakistan vs Zimbabwe 2nd Test 2021

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Stumps Pakistan 268 for 4 (Azhar 126, Abid 118*, Muzarabani 3-41) vs Zimbabwe

Centuries from Abid Ali and Azhar Ali put Pakistan in firm command of the second Test at stumps in Harare. The pair combined for a 236-run second wicket partnership – a record at this venue – which spanned nearly the entirety of the day.

Zimbabwe found themselves toiling on a slow pitch, with the ball offering little encouragement for most of the day as the two batters played out near chanceless innings. The arrival of the new ball ensured the hosts would have something to take back with them overnight, with three quickfire strikes from Blessing Muzarabani sending Azhar, Babar Azam and Fawad Alam back before stumps were called. Even so, Pakistan had moved on to 268 for 4 by that time, finishing the day well in control.

The visitors opted to bat after winning the toss, with the most striking bit of news the decision to hand a debut to 36-year old Tabish Khan. The reasons for excluding Faheem Ashraf, entering perhaps the most promising phase of a young Test career, weren’t quite satisfactorily explained, and the omission meant Pakistan’s tail was somewhat extended.

Pakistan might have been keen to ensure they don’t need extra runs from the lower order, and while Azhar and Abid have effectively guaranteed them that, it was Muzarabani and Richard Ngarava who enjoyed the better of the first hour. As they did in the first Test, the pair gave little away by way of scoring opportunities, bogging the two openers down. Imran Butt looked a little indecisive against deliveries around his off stump, with both bowlers working him over as the dot balls began to mount. It was the change of pace that worked though, with Ngarava banging one in short that hustled Butt as he tried to pull over midwicket. No timing on that shot meant he would never clear the man, and Zimbabwe had an early breakthrough.

It wasn’t until the over before drinks in a first hour that Zimbabwe dominated that the shackles began to be broken. Azhar got Donald Tiripano off for a boundary on either side of the wicket to tick the scoreboard over, and from thereon, a touch of sloppiness seeped its way into Zimbabwe’s game. Abid was significantly more circumspect as the former Pakistan captain Azhar taking charge of the scoring, but a loose over from Tendai Chisoro allowed the opener to get a couple of fours away too, and get himself settled.

Pakistan resumed after lunch at a much higher tempo than was the case in the morning, with the hour following the break especially productive. Tiripano, among the brighter lights for Zimbabwe in the first Test, was especially lackadaisical, his lines and lengths wavering constantly as the batters picked up a boundary just about every over. Azhar was especially proficient at creating gaps backward of square and through the midwicket area, while Abid expertly leant on and timed through the covers the full deliveries.

With the ball doing little – and little on offer from the surface – Zimbabwe will be disappointed at not having maintained their disciplines and waited for the batters to make mistakes. The frustration began to show as the session wore on, and that bred even more waywardness on the part of the bowlers.

Zimbabwe managed to convince the umpires to get the ball changed after 53 overs, but that did not herald a change of fortune. If anything, things went from bad to worse as a long-hop from Chisoro was walloped by Abid into short leg, where Roy Kaia was stationed. It caught the side of the left knee, and Kaia was in agony for several minutes before being stretchered off, adding another potential injury to Zimbabwe’s long casualty list.

But none of that fazed the two batters, who continued hour upon hour and session upon session, wholly focused on spending time at the crease and accumulating runs wherever possible. The run rate played cat and mouse with the three runs per over mark for much of the last two sessions, and while that made for slightly tedious viewing at times, the levels of concentration it might have taken to look as assured as the pair did should not go unremarked. Abid needed runs desperately this series to save his spot in the side, while Azhar, whom Pakistan had sacked as captain, continued to remind the selectors his place in the side remains set in stone.

But with both having cruised to their centuries and looking to set themselves up for the following day, Zimbabwe struck back with some class of their own. A triple-strike from Muzarabani restored some respectability to the scorecard from the bowlers’ point of view, beginning when Azhar looked to drive him on the up, only finding a thick edge that flew to gully.

It was followed up by the big price of Azam’s wicket, in similar fashion to the way Azhar fell. Muzarabani’s knack of troubling the Pakistan captain continues to pay dividends; this is the sixth time since his return to the national side last year that the Zimbabwean has got rid of Azam. There was also time to see the back of Alam, whom Muzarabani worked over thoroughly in a brief innings. He was peppered with the short ball before finally dragging one on to the stumps, with Pakistan scurrying to send in nightwatchman Sajid Khan to see the day out.

Zimbabwe finished the day as they began it – on top – but being as exceptionally ineffective as they were in the middle came with its costs. They will need to pick up where they left off tomorrow morning, and stick at it until the final wicket is taken if the damage wrought by the Azhar and Abid Ali is to be reversed.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000



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Recent Match Report – Middlesex vs Gloucs Group 2 2021

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Gloucestershire 19 for 1 trail Middlesex 210 (White 76*, Payne 5-31) by 191 runs

This wasn’t exactly an advert for Championship cricket. More a case of Championship cricket for adverts (specifically of the erectile dysfunction variety, as it happens) as Sky Sports cobbled together a lo-fi means to fill an IPL-shaped void in their scheduling. The solution? The dispatching of their heavies – Athers, Nasser, Keysy and Wardy – to HQ, to see what the Middlesex live stream had to offer their cricketainment-starved masses.

The answer “Robbie White” might not have been top of anyone’s list, to be fair. Nor a run-rate that protested, like a two-stroke moped, whenever it got close to 2.5 an over. Nor a dank and confused day that started as black as midnight and erupted, via two half-hearted rain-breaks, into the sort of hypothermic blue skies that cause accidental picnickers to stammer “isn’t this lovely?” through chattering teeth.

But at least there was David Payne, bending his left-arm bananas around a series of skittish defensive techniques, to claim the day’s outstanding figures of 5 for 31 in 18.5 overs. And at least there was the chance, too, for the under-sung Ryan Higgins to seize this unlikely version of the limelight. By picking off two well-crafted wickets, including the in-form Sam Robson for the day’s first scalp, Higgins took his season’s tally to 26 at 17.34, and with his batting yet to come, he could yet reinforce the sense that his numbers are more than just a trick of the Bristol light.

But overall, this was a day on which Middlesex stared their recent batting failures in the mirror, like a self-motivating drunk in a pub toilet, and ended up decorating the dancefloor once again in spite of resolving to hold it all in this time. Their innings of 210 in 80.5 overs was attritional in outlook, but lacked attrition in execution – with the honourable exception of White, who remained high and dry on 76 not out from 149 balls, as the rest of Middlesex’s top seven reached double figures without getting past 20.

White is still waiting for that elusive first-class century – he made a career-best 99 in last season’s Bob Willis Trophy, and has now passed 70 in the last four of this season’s five matches. His nine boundaries were cherry-picked at first, as he focussed on punishing the ball in his eyeline, but his confidence was beginning to flow as he eased to his fifty with a brace of fours off Daniel Worrall – a liberated cut and a pumped drive through the covers. With a bit more support at the other end, he’ll reach his promised land soon enough.

Gloucestershire, top of Group 2 after a startlingly composed start to their campaign, have leant heavily on their batting in their three wins from four, not least in their 348-run chase against Leicestershire in the last round of matches. But when given the chance to bowl first on a stereotypically “look up, not down” morning at Lord’s, Chris Dent seized the chance, and was vindicated in the final analysis, even if for long periods of their innings, Middlesex seemed to be toughing their way through to better times.

Their frailties, however, were rarely far from the surface. Robson and Max Holden peered through the gloom of the first hour to reach 23 for no loss when rain stopped play for the first time, only for Higgins to bend his second ball of the resumption down the slope and into Robson’s planted front pad for 13.

Max Holden was then suckered by a zippy nipbacker from Matt Taylor, the second left-armer in Gloucestershire’s ranks – his lack of intent condemning him for offering no shot as the ball speared back down the slope. And though Peter Handscomb avoided his third duck since arriving as Middlesex’s new captain, his dismissal was not that of a man at ease with his game. A grotesque leave as Payne curled an inswinger into his off-stump for 10 left him nursing a tally of 27 runs in four innings.

Middlesex by now were going nowhere fast, unable to stick and not daring to twist as Gloucestershire’s seamers hounded their techniques with increasing frequency. Nick Gubbins was another to succumb to Payne’s natural bend through the air, as he jabbed with hard hands for George Hankins to cling on at the second attempt at second slip, and though John Simpson showed signs of fluency with three well-timed fours in his 17, he was done like a rookie by the spin of Tom Smith. A flat tonk through mid-on one ball as Smith gave him oodles of air to chase, a confused thud of the pad the next, as Smith slipped a faster, flatter one down the slope.



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Recent Match Report – Sussex vs Northants Group 3 2021

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Zaib scores ton in 198-run stand with skipper, Robinson five-for and van Zyl 71* keep Sussex fighting

Sussex 106 and 154 for 4 (van Zyl 71*) trail Northamptonshire 441 for 9 declared (Zaib 135, Keogh 87, Robinson 5-58) by 181 runs

Saif Zaib posted a wonderful maiden first-class century before Ben Sanderson and Gareth Berg once again knocked over the Sussex top order in the LV= Insurance County Championship.

Talented left-hander Zaib, who has been at Northamptonshire since he was 15, collected a commanding 135 as he and Adam Rossington, 87, put on 198 together to help the hosts to a massive 335-run first-innings lead.



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